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RV-6 Celebrates 30th Anniversary

The most successful amateur-built aircraft

By James Wynbrandt

July 25, 2016 - Van’s Aircraft’s RV-6, the most successful amateur-built aircraft of all time with more than 2,500 certified and flying, is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its 1986 introduction here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2016.

“The RV-6, more than any other design, opened so many people’s eyes to what is possible in the world of homebuilding,” said Charlie Becker, EAA director of chapters, communities, and homebuilt community manager. “Here you had a design that’s an amazing combination of speed, comfort, and performance at both the high end and slow end of the performance range.” 

Yet, when launched, the kitbuilt RV-6 hardly seemed a candidate for aircraft immortality, recalled Richard “Van” VanGrunsven, founder of Oregon-based Van’s Aircraft whose initials formed the model name of the aircraft. “At the time, there were some [kit] airplanes that were more spectacular or got more public notice that this did,” he said. “The RV-6 was not a spectacular airplane in any way as kit planes go. It’s a more general-purpose aircraft – not the fastest, not the most aerobatic. It just offered a better balance of qualities than the other airplanes did, and thus proved to be,” VanGrunsven stopped to consider, “a better enduring design might be a good word.”

Did the market’s response to the RV-6 surprise him? “It is hard to have projected (sales), just because the industry was in its infancy, and at the time there weren’t that many companies doing any level of business,” VanGrunsven said. 

All told, some 4,000 RV-6 kits were sold before production was discontinued in 2001 in favor of the follow-on RV-7, which featured a longer wingspan and easier-to-construct kit components. But new RV-6s still appear from projects “started a long time ago,” VanGrunsven noted. About 300 RV-6s are registered at the fly-in this year, many having flown to Oshkosh for the first time in honor or the anniversary.

Meanwhile, the RV-6’s success paved the way for the expansion of Van’s product line.

“It was really a bread and butter airplane for probably a 10-year period of time,” said VanGrunsven. “It was not only that it provided us a substantial level of improvement of the volume of business, but provided a basis for expanding into newer, improved designs of the same planform, or the same design, or the same design principal.”

The company’s model line is now up to the RV-14 (there is no RV-13) and includes the four-place trike gear RV-10 and single-seat RV-11 motorglider (currently under development), along with tricycle gear variants of some of its most popular models.

As for future goals for the company, VanGrunsven was characteristically modest. “Nothing in particular, other than just trying to generate a reasonable level of sales of the various models we have.”

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